Marked By Many.
Those familiar with Naiza Khan's impressive oeuvre will relate to her when she claims that she is still addressing the body' in her current work. Khan's interests in her initial years with the female figure has evolved to the landscape and historical mapping of Karachi and Manora that almost forgotten island just off Karachi. Manora dealt with extensively connotes stability where Karachi is ever-changing and for the artist is a new body' to be explored created and indeed claimed.
This is but one of the lens to view and interpret Naiza Khan's new works in the The Weight of Things' her long awaited solo exhibition at the Koel Gallery further traveling to National Gallery of Art in Islamabad and The Zahoorul Akhlaq Gallery ( NCA) in Lahore on occasion of the Prince Claus Award. The exhibit features works in acrylic watercolor mixed media sculpture photographs prints and video in short a full course meal for the distinguished art palette.
Following her recent interests in this exhibit focusing on Manora Island (and greater Karachi) landscape and historical milieu is still her greatest concern. In this new body of work while Khan continues to explore what seems familiar she also ventures into the unfamiliar. Her Karachi origins her current reality is contrasted with Manora that Island almost part of Karachi with its own narratives its own time lapse its own identity is contrasted and colonized and unpacked and discussed in her work. Khan acknowledges her role as the outsider but seeks to make meaning of this reality of being through exploring history dissonance from within and between and our rapidly changing reality as a postcolonial space.
One of the most prominent works in the exhibition How We Mark the Land Becomes Part of its History seems to represent this reality in her new work. An ominous sense of doom surrounds this work described by Naiza herself as a dust storm'. The dust screens layers of meanings interplaying and emerging in the work the more one engages with it. There are signs of an urban jungle. The blurry outlines of the coast emerge marked by ships. The scene is not easy to decipher the perspectives are layered. Khan's concerns deal with the historical anxieties of colonialism and of cartography. Her recent work recalls nostalgic images of historical Karachi frequently shared amongst the city's elite images of that cosmopolitan city' where the Parsis and the Goans and the Gujaratis lived with the locals where the streets were cleaned which was once green and planned and proud. But Khan's work moors this past firmly to present.
Karachi of the present as of the past is firmly married to its coast; its destiny and its source of income and this continues to feature in her work. The curator Maha Malik states that this work is further marked by text personal annotations as well as excerpts from a British soldier's account of Karachi's weather during the 19th century'. (1). The weather then in the shape of a dust storm heralds the changing landscape of this land claimed and marked by many and one of the most integral of Khan's concerns.
It is no secret that Naiza Khan is one of those rare artists to be highly engaged in art criticism and history. Her small notebooks are filled more with writing and thoughts than sketches and while these complex ideas feature prominently in her work it is really the artist in her that shines. Her technique continues to be breathtaking one can say that some of this work is same old same old' but it does not fail to enchant. The five watercolors - Fossilised Land Land-Marked Censored Sites/Sights The Land Itself and Map-under-construction are pregnant with meaning. The landscape of the city and its environs dissipates in pools of color. A closer look and one can gauge the meticulous process but also her own anxiety omnipresent in the work. Her process is slow she works by recreating; layers upon layers of paint and drawings. The metaphorical and physical reveal themselves in much the same way as does the land the more one engages and explores it.
Naiza Khan is concerned with the environment. At a recent discussion she alluded to her recent interest in how the city consumes. The sandstorm the ships the oil rigs the discarded objects it is all there. Constellations Adrift is a particularly effective rendering of our obsession with objects used and then discarded. There is a mobile phone and a toy helicopter in sparkly old. I am reminded of the Titanic of the beautiful objects that accompanied the first-class passengers on their offshore journeys. However the work also recalls Karachi's relationship to the sea our relationship to trade our modern consumerism and our lack of interest in spaces like Manora today dumping grounds unless they provide some land to develop for economic interests.
Anxieties of the contemporary Pakistani state and its surveillance policies vis-a-vis the ocean are present in Khan's work; she talks about the durbein (the telescope). The Building Terrain Series deals with these notions directly our own anxious relationship to the state and its capacity for control is also contrasted with the individual's own surveillance techniques. The telescope is a way to view the sea especially when on Manora this view is (still) unobstructed with layers of concrete. Khan of course acknowledges her own role as the artist of seeing and responding to her environment. The perception of the visual and aural is a part of her language and amongst the many meanings to be gauged from her work.
The Weight of Things' is a comprehensive look at Naiza Khan's evolving practice and her shifting interests. It is of great credit to her that she is able to steep herself so deeply and intuitively in this subject and produce work replete with so much to uncover. The exhibition at Koel Gallery ( Karachi) then is part of this growth of the artist which while susceptible to these growing pains' results in a satisfyingly meaningful and beautiful exhibit.
1. Pg 6 Exhibition Catalogue The Weight of Things'